On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation rejected a bill to extend Israeli law to the West Bank settlements, but only after most of the committee's members initially voted for the move.

The committee's chairman, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, himself initially voted for the bill, which had been initiated by MK Miri Regev (Likud ). However, Neeman called a halt to the voting to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Only after Netanyahu instructed his ministers, through Neeman, to vote against the bill, did they do so. On a second round of voting, the proposal was quashed.

In the second round only Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu ) voted for the bill while nine ministers opposed it. Five other ministers abstained: Neeman, Daniel Hershkowitz, Meshulam Nahari, Yaakov Margi and Yuli Edelstein.

Military law is currently the law applied in the West Bank. Extending Israeli law to the settlements would mean a de facto annexation of the settlements to Israel.

Approval of the bill by the ministerial committee would require the 94-member coalition to vote for it in its preliminary reading in the Knesset, which would assure it would pass that reading. Such a situation could both embarrass Kadima as well as place Israel on a collision course with the United States and several European countries.

Livnat clarification

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat issued a statement of clarification on Sunday after initially voting for the bill, then voting against it on the second round. On the first vote, Livnat's statement said, she misunderstood and thought she was voting against, not for, Regev's bill, and in support of the prime minister. When it was made clear to her that a vote in favor meant she was supporting Regev's bill, she changed it.

Sources close to Sa'ar, who also changed his vote, said he also thought he was voting against the bill rather than for it.

"There is no way the committee would have passed the bill. One way or another the prime minister would have brought all his weight to bear to prevent it from moving ahead. So to present matters as if the government was just a step away from annexing the settlements is simply incorrect," a senior political figure said on Sunday.

Another political source said: "The fact that Kadima did not insist on having one of its members on the Ministerial Committee on Legislation could cause them a lot of embarrassment. Ministers could force Kadima to support right-wing initiatives and the party will have no recourse" but to support them.

At Sunday's meeting, Neeman proposed that the bill be brought up again in a month, so the cabinet could discuss the matter in the interim.

Earlier, he had asked the ministers to phone Regev and urge her to agree to a postponement of the vote, but Regev had refused.

Minister Benny Begin, who opposes the bill, said the legislation was "not helpful to the state, because the interpretation could be far-reaching - as if the prime minister is considering such a possibility. Such bills have a cost in the international arena."

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